One of my pet peeves about the new torque-sensing 1000W Ultra Max drive unit is that there just aren’t that many frames for it available in the states. The original Bafang Max drive which only sported 350W of power has a totally different mounting bracket than the Ultra Max which means you just can’t fit a round drive unit into a square hole. While there are prebuilt ebikes on the market that you can buy already with the Ultra Max drive unit on it, I wanted something a whole lot cheaper and I didn’t want to wait. I had an old full suspension bike frame from a Bikes Direct Sniper which I decided to chop up and weld the aluminum mounting bracket on. This article is about that process and the end results which I would encourage everyone to copy me (imitation is the sincerest form of compliment).
I liked test riding the 2500W torque sensing Ultra Max Luna Apex, but it quickly became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to spring for the $5,500+ that it was going to cost to get my dirty paws on one. On top of that, after test driving the model with the Rohloff hub, it became clear that if I did get the Apex that the Rohloff was a must have $1,800 option. Since I have seen fit to not really work a real job and basically have been living off the scraps out of my neighbor’s compost pile I had to start looking at more realistic options.
The Gravity Sniper full suspension frame I had sprung $1500 on 2 years ago had been sitting around in the ebike shed gathering dust. The rear swingarm was looser than a $20 hooker and I could see I was wasting my time riding it with. I had set it up with a 3000W Ascent Tangent drive system which twisted the frame so much under full throttle that I was seriously afraid that the frame would break. Something a little lower power and torque sensing were clearly called for. One of the nicest features of the Sniper/Quigley frame is that the chainstays are up and out-of-the-way so you don’t have to try to weld them to the Ultra Max bracket.
I went to the Ithaca Generator Makerspace to chop off the old bottom bracket and grind off the paint so I could TIG weld it. Although I’ve done a fair bit of Acetylene welding in the past, I can say with some certainty that the skills don’t transfer well to TIG welding. After about 15 minutes of trying, I ended up giving up as it became clear that there was no way it was ever going to happen. I took my pieces to the local welding shop Accufab who charged me $80 to do a bang-up welding job on it. I talked to them about what the application was and they used the right kind of rod that would allow some flex in the joints instead of rigidity. Although Aluminum is extremely weak when welded and not heat-treated (think lead) I was assured that the welds would probably hold up even with the level of abuse that I dish out to my bikes (I just broke my second alloy frame last week, sad panda).
If you want to heat-treat the frame after welding it (you should) then you need to get a temperature controlled kiln and get the frame up to about 1400 degrees and then quench it in water. After the quenching it needs to go into the kiln at a mere 400 degrees for a few hours then it’s good to go. I have a friend that has temperature controlled kilns that agreed to do the firing, but in the end, I was too lazy to grind all the paint off so I figured I’d try to break the untreated welds and if I could then I would do it the right way the second time around. So far, so good (I’ll update the article if and when I break it).
I’m not sure why Bafang continues to make their chainrings and spiders out of heavy steel. The stock chainring is nearly six times heavier than the 42T narrow/wide Raceface ring (56g) I settled on that will wear nearly as well as the stock steel one does. Add to that another 312g for the steel spider adapter and I have to say enough is enough. There is no chainring and adapter anywhere in the universe that needs to be over 600g, that is just complete unadulterated madness.
To mount the chainring adapter to the bike you will need to get your hands on a custom tool to do that. It is reverse threaded and you can purchase one of the new socket adapters and torque wrenches (torque wrench? who needs a torque wrench? I just tighten it down as hard as my little T-Rex arms will allow me to) from Luna for $85 here or you can do what I did and just pick up a cheap-ass Park tool BBT 69.2 socket from ebay for $25.60 here.
The other parts of the Ultra max that I thought were much better is the new magnetic speed sensor does not have to be a few mm from the sensor to work. I was able to get it to work with almost a whole cm of space. This added space makes it much easier to get fat tires on and off the ultra build without hitting the speed sensor unit in the process. The drive unit also has a nice plastic cover that you can cram all the wires behind so they are a little more hidden on your build. I ended up cutting up the plastic cover so I could rout the wires out of it through the top instead of through the aluminum mounting bracket like most production Ultra Max bikes.
It’s been a tough winter, and I don’t think that the Ultra Max is the right drive unit for plowing through deep, heavy, wet snow. That being said, the reward I was able to experience after finally completing this build and testing it out was near bliss. I didn’t know if anything I did was going to work, but the stock programming on the ludicrous powered Ultra Max drive unit available here for $995 was nearly perfect. If you don’t like the settings on the Ultra Max, almost all the parameters are custom programmable which is not true of any other torque sensing drive units on the market right now. Although the Ludicrous controllers for the BBSHD are nearly impossible to get, Luna is selling their 2500W controllers on the Ultra Max to anyone who will plunk down the extra $250. I would not even consider getting this drive unit without the higher power controller, it does not disappoint. I harass my wife for using too much toothpaste on her toothbrush. Clearly, I am the biggest cheapskate out there, and I still sprung the extra $250 for a Ludicrous controller. $250 buys a whole lotta toothpaste.
For an extra $40 you can throw in a mounting plate, add another $80 for a professional weld job and you can turn any alloy bike frame you have kicking about into a pretty awesome ride. Once you go Bafang-Max-Ultra-Ludicrous, baby, you’ll never go back.